This is a preview of how your content will look on export. To export the complete content in DOC format, click the blue export button in the upper right corner of this page.
VII.B. The Effect of Defendant's Infirmities and Limitations on the Standard
  • 1 McCarty v. Pheasant Run--"The Chained, But Unlocked, Sliding Door"

    Does a plaintiff's lack of care elevate the care expected of the defendant?

    1
    826 F.2d 1554 (1987)
    2
    Dula McCARTY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
    v.
    PHEASANT RUN, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
    3
    No. 86-2135.
    4

    United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

    5
    Argued February 9, 1987.
    6
    Decided July 22, 1987.
    7

    1555*1555 Arthur L. Klein, Arnstein, Gluck, Lehr, Barron & Milligan, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellant.

    8

    Byron D. Knight, Judge & Knight, Ltd., Park Ridge, Ill., for defendant-appellee.

    9

    Before BAUER, Chief Judge, and CUDAHY and POSNER, Circuit Judges.

    10

    POSNER, Circuit Judge.

    11

    The high crime rate in the United States has interacted with expanding notions of tort liability to make suits charging hotel owners with negligence in failing to protect their guests from criminal attacks increasingly common. See Annot., 28 A.L.R.4th 80 (1984). Dula McCarty, a guest at the Pheasant Run Lodge in St. Charles, Illinois, was assaulted by an intruder in her room, and brought suit against the owner of the resort. The suit charges negligence, and bases federal jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship. The parties agree that Illinois law governs the substantive issues. The jury brought in a verdict for the defendant, and Mrs. McCarty appeals on a variety of grounds.

    12

    In 1981 Mrs. McCarty, then 58 years old and a merchandise manager for Sears Roebuck, checked into Pheasant Run — a large resort hotel on 160 acres outside Chicago — to attend a Sears business meeting. In one wall of her second-floor room was a sliding glass door equipped with a lock and a safety chain. The door opens onto a walkway that has stairs leading to a lighted courtyard to which there is public access. The drapes were drawn and the door covered by them. Mrs. McCarty left the room for dinner and a meeting. When she returned, she undressed and got ready for bed. As she was coming out of the bathroom, she was attacked by a man with a stocking mask. He beat and threatened to rape her. She fought him off, and he fled. He has never been caught. Although Mrs. McCarty's physical injuries were not serious, she claims that the incident caused prolonged emotional distress which, among other things, led her to take early retirement from Sears.

    13

    Investigation of the incident by the police revealed that the sliding glass door had been closed but not locked, that it had been pried open from the outside, and that the security chain had been broken. The intruder must have entered Mrs. McCarty's room by opening the door to the extent permitted by the chain, breaking the chain, and sliding the door open the rest of the way. Then he concealed himself somewhere in the room until she returned and entered the bathroom.

    14

    Mrs. McCarty argues that the judge should have granted her motion for judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict for the defendant. But she failed to move for a directed verdict on the issue of the defendant's negligence, and that is a prerequisite to judgment n.o.v. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). It is true that she made a motion for a directed verdict on the issue of her contributory negligence, which was denied, and that the defendant made a motion for a directed verdict on the issue of its negligence, which was also denied, but these motions were not equivalent to the motion she failed to make. Even if she had been innocent of contributory negligence as 1556*1556 a matter of law, this would not have made the defendant guilty of negligence as a matter of law; in many accidents, neither injurer nor victim is at fault, and then there is no liability. Similarly, all that the denial of the defendant's motion for a directed verdict showed was that the defendant was not innocent of negligence as a matter of law; it could of course be guilty of negligence as a matter of law. Thus, neither motion for directed verdict presented the question whether the issue of the defendant's negligence should be withdrawn from the jury and resolved in the plaintiff's favor. She could not present that issue for the first time in her motion for judgment n.o.v.

    15

    The modern rationale for the rule that a motion for directed verdict is a prerequisite to judgment n.o.v. is that the opposing party should have a chance to rectify (or at least seek the court's leave to rectify) deficiencies in his evidence before it is too late, that is, before the case goes to the jury. McKinnon v. City of Berwyn, 750 F.2d 1383, 1388 (7th Cir.1984); see also Benson v. Allphin, 786 F.2d 268, 273-74 (7th Cir.1986). That rationale is applicable to this case. After both motions for directed verdict (the plaintiff's on contributory negligence, and the defendant's on negligence) were denied, the defendant had no reason to think it hadn't put in enough evidence to get to the jury on the issue of liability. If the plaintiff thought otherwise she had to move for a directed verdict on that issue.

    16

    As an alternative ground for denying the motion for judgment n.o.v., the district judge correctly pointed out that the case was not so one-sided in the plaintiff's favor that the grant of a directed verdict or judgment n.o.v. in her favor would be proper. Her theories of negligence are that the defendant should have made sure the door was locked when she was first shown to her room; should have warned her to keep the sliding glass door locked; should have equipped the door with a better lock; should have had more security guards (only two were on duty, and the hotel has more than 500 rooms), cf. Nordmann v. National Hotel Co., 425 F.2d 1103, 1107 (5th Cir.1970); should have made the walkway on which the door opened inaccessible from ground level; should have adopted better procedures for preventing unauthorized persons from getting hold of keys to guests' rooms; or should have done some combination of these things. The suggestion that the defendant should have had better procedures for keeping keys away from unauthorized persons is irrelevant, for it is extremely unlikely that the intruder entered the room through the front door. Compare Danile v. Oak Park Arms Hotel, Inc., 55 Ill.App.2d 2, 203 N.E.2d 706 (1964). The other theories were for the jury to accept or reject, and its rejection of them was not unreasonable. Cf. Courtney v. Remler, 566 F.Supp. 1225, 1233-34 (D.S.C.1983).

    17

    There are various ways in which courts formulate the negligence standard. The analytically (not necessarily the operationally) most precise is that it involves determining whether the burden of precaution is less than the magnitude of the accident, if it occurs, multiplied by the probability of occurrence. (The product of this multiplication, or "discounting," is what economists call an expected accident cost.) If the burden is less, the precaution should be taken. This is the famous "Hand Formula" announced in United States v. Carroll Towing Co., 159 F.2d 169, 173 (2d Cir.1947) (L. Hand, J.), an admiralty case, and since applied in a variety of cases not limited to admiralty. See, e.g., United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. v. Jadranska Slobodna Plovidba, 683 F.2d 1022, 1026 (7th Cir.1982); Maryland Cas. Co. v. City of Jackson, 493 So.2d 955, 960 n. 3 (Miss.1986) (dictum); People Express Airlines, Inc. v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 100 N.J. 246, 266-67, 495 A.2d 107, 117-18 (1985); Micallef v. Miehle Co., 39 N.Y.2d 376, 386, 384 N.Y.S.2d 115, 348 N.E.2d 571, 577-78 (1976); Phillips v. Croy, 173 Ind.App. 401, 404-05, 363 N.E.2d 1283, 1285 (1977); Benlehr v. Shell Oil Co., 62 Ohio App.2d 1, 9 and n. 5, 402 N.E.2d 1203, 1208 and n. 5 (1978); Golden v. McCurry, 392 So.2d 815, 819 (Ala.1980) (separate opinion); 3 Harper, James & Gray, The Law of Torts § 16.9, at pp. 467-68 1557*1557 (2d ed. 1986); Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 31, at p. 173 (5th ed. 1984); cf. East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, Inc., 476 U.S. 858, 106 S.Ct. 2295, 2302, 90 L.Ed.2d 865 (1986); Prentis v. Yale Mfg. Co., 421 Mich. 670, 687, 365 N.W.2d 176, 184 (1984).

    18

    We are not authorized to change the common law of Illinois, however, and Illinois courts do not cite the Hand Formula but instead define negligence as failure to use reasonable care, a term left undefined. See, e.g., Hardware State Bank v. Cotner, 55 Ill.2d 240, 247-48, 302 N.E.2d 257, 262 (1973); Denniston v. Skelly Oil Co., 47 Ill.App.3d 1054, 1067, 6 Ill.Dec. 77, 87, 362 N.E.2d 712, 722 (1977). But as this is a distinction without a substantive difference, we have not hesitated to use the Hand Formula in cases governed by Illinois law. See EVRA Corp. v. Swiss Bank Corp., 673 F.2d 951, 958 (7th Cir.1982); Davis v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 788 F.2d 1260, 1263-64 (7th Cir.1986). The formula translates into economic terms the conventional legal test for negligence. This can be seen by considering the factors that the Illinois courts take into account in negligence cases: the same factors, and in the same relation, as in the Hand Formula. See Hendricks v. Peabody Coal Co., 115 Ill.App.2d 35, 45-46, 253 N.E.2d 56, 61 (1969); Bezark v. Kostner Manor, Inc., 29 Ill.App.2d 106, 111-12, 172 N.E.2d 424, 426-27 (1961). Unreasonable conduct is merely the failure to take precautions that would generate greater benefits in avoiding accidents than the precautions would cost.

    19

    Ordinarily, and here, the parties do not give the jury the information required to quantify the variables that the Hand Formula picks out as relevant. That is why the formula has greater analytic than operational significance. Conceptual as well as practical difficulties in monetizing personal injuries may continue to frustrate efforts to measure expected accident costs with the precision that is possible, in principle at least, in measuring the other side of the equation — the cost or burden of precaution. Cf. Conway v. O'Brien, 111 F.2d 611, 612 (2d Cir.1940) (L. Hand, J.), rev'd on other grounds, 312 U.S. 492, 61 S.Ct. 634, 85 L.Ed. 969 (1941). For many years to come juries may be forced to make rough judgments of reasonableness, intuiting rather than measuring the factors in the Hand Formula; and so long as their judgment is reasonable, the trial judge has no right to set it aside, let alone substitute his own judgment.

    20

    Having failed to make much effort to show that the mishap could have been prevented by precautions of reasonable cost and efficacy, Mrs. McCarty is in a weak position to complain about the jury verdict. No effort was made to inform the jury what it would have cost to equip every room in the Pheasant Run Lodge with a new lock, and whether the lock would have been jimmy-proof. The excluded exhibits (of which more later) were advertisements for locks, and Mrs. McCarty's lawyer expressed no interest in testing the claims made in them, or in calculating the expense of installing new locks in every room in the resort. And since the door to Mrs. McCarty's room was unlocked, what good would a better lock have done? No effort was made, either, to specify an optimal security force for a resort the size of Pheasant Run. No one considered the fire or other hazards that a second-floor walkway not accessible from ground level would create. A notice in every room telling guests to lock all doors would be cheap, but since most people know better than to leave the door to a hotel room unlocked when they leave the room — and the sliding glass door gave on a walkway, not a balcony — the jury might have thought that the incremental benefits from the notice would be slight. Mrs. McCarty testified that she didn't know there was a door behind the closed drapes, but the jury wasn't required to believe this. Most people on checking into a hotel room, especially at a resort, are curious about the view; and it was still light when Mrs. McCarty checked in at 6:00 p.m. on an October evening.

    21

    It is a bedrock principle of negligence law that due care is that care which is optimal given that the potential victim is himself reasonably careful; a careless person 1558*1558 cannot by his carelessness raise the standard of care of those he encounters. Davis v. Consolidated Rail Corp., supra, 788 F.2d at 1265. The jury may have thought it was the hotel's responsibility to provide a working lock but the guest's responsibility to use it. See Brewer v. Roosevelt Motor Lodge, 295 A.2d 647, 652 (Me.1972). We do not want to press too hard on this point. A possible explanation for the condition of the door as revealed by the police investigation is that Mrs. McCarty on leaving the room for the evening left the door unlocked but with the safety chain fastened, and she might have been reasonable in thinking this a sufficient precaution. But it would not follow that the hotel was negligent, unless it is negligence to have sliding doors accessible to the public, a suggestion the jury was not required to buy. We doubt whether a boilerplate notice about the dangers of unlocked doors would have altered the behavior of the average guest; in any event this too was an issue for the jury. Cf. Rosier v. Gainsville Inns Associates, Ltd., 347 So.2d 1100, 1102 (Fla.App.1977); Otwell v. Motel 6, Inc., 755 F.2d 665, 667 (8th Cir.1985) (per curiam).

    22

    Now it is true that in Illinois an innkeeper, which in contemplation of law this defendant is, is required to use a high (not merely the ordinary) standard of care to protect its guests from assaults on the innkeeper's premises. Mrzlak v. Ettinger, 25 Ill.App.3d 706, 712-13, 323 N.E.2d 796, 800 (1975); Danile v. Oak Park Arms Hotel, Inc., supra, 55 Ill.App.2d at 8-9, 203 N.E.2d at 709. This is not the general rule, see, e.g., Kveragas v. Scottish Inns, Inc., 733 F.2d 409, 413 (6th Cir.1984); Peters v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 89 Wis.2d 115, 123-24, 278 N.W.2d 208, 212 (1979); Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Dorn, 292 So.2d 429, 431-32 (Fla.App.1974), though it has some ambiguous support in Louisiana, see Kraaz v. La Quinta Motor Inns, Inc., 410 So.2d 1048 (La.1982) — ambiguous because while the court said that "a guest is entitled to a high degree of care and protection," it promptly added that "the innkeeper has a duty to take reasonable precautions against criminals" (id. at 1053, emphasis added). Conceivably, as suggested in Dorn, it is no longer the rule in Illinois either, though Yamada v. Hilton Hotel Corp., 60 Ill.App.3d 101, 112, 17 Ill.Dec. 228, 237, 376 N.E.2d 227, 236 (1977), decided after Dorn, suggests it is. The rule may simply be an inadvertent extrapolation from the principle (see Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 314A and comment e (1965); Kveragas v. Scottish Inns, Inc., supra, 733 F.2d at 412) that an innkeeper, like a common carrier but unlike a mere bystander, has a duty to prevent (or rescue from) dangers created by third parties. See Fortney v. Hotel Rancroft, Inc., 5 Ill.App.2d 327, 331, 125 N.E.2d 544, 546 (1955), seeming to equate these distinct propositions.

    23

    The rule, if it is a rule, may be defensible however; and whether it is or is not defensible is relevant to whether it is a genuine rule or a mere inadvertence. Ordinarily the innkeeper knows much more about the hazards of his trade than the guest, and can take reasonable (=cost-justified) steps to reduce them, while ordinarily the guest can do little to protect himself against them. See Banks v. Hyatt Corp., 722 F.2d 214, 226-27 (5th Cir.1984). Pheasant Run, Inc. knows more about the danger of break-ins to guest rooms at its lodge than the guests do, and more about the alternative methods for preventing such break-ins, as well. Maybe this asymmetry in the parties' position should make the defendant's standard of care higher than it would be in, say, an ordinary collision case. See Danile v. Oak Park Arms Hotel, Inc., supra, 55 Ill.App.2d at 6-8, 203 N.E.2d at 708-09. But it does not make the defendant's liability strict. In this case there was evidence of negligence but not so much as to establish liability as a matter of law or (the plaintiff's alternative argument) to require a new trial. And the rule, based as it seems to be on an asymmetry in the parties' abilities to prevent mishaps, has a certain hollowness in a case such as this, where the victim may have failed to take an elementary precaution — locking the sliding door before leaving the room.

    24

    1559*1559 The next issue that Mrs. McCarty seeks to raise is whether the judge should have instructed the jury to decide whether she had been contributorily negligent. She argues that there was no evidence of her contributory negligence. Pheasant Run is not in the middle of a large city and it might not occur to a guest that a safety chain on a sliding door to the outside was an inadequate protection against nocturnal marauders. On the other hand Mrs. McCarty was an experienced business traveler, so maybe she should have known better; and most people don't consider a safety chain an adequate substitute for a lock. But even if there was no evidence of contributory negligence, there was no prejudicial error in giving an instruction on it. The jury was clearly and correctly instructed that contributory negligence in Illinois is not a complete defense; it just cuts down the amount of damages that the plaintiff would otherwise be entitled to. This is the principle of comparative negligence, and at the time of the trial of this case it existed in Illinois in its pure form, meaning that the plaintiff is entitled to some damages even if he was more negligent than the defendant. See Alvis v. Ribar, 85 Ill.2d 1, 25-28, 52 Ill.Dec. 23, 421 N.E.2d 886, 897-98 (1981). (The rule has since been modified. See Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 110, ¶¶ 2-1107.1, 2-1116; Davis v. United States, 824 F.2d 549, 551 (7th Cir.1987).) Since the jury returned a verdict for the defendant, rather than a verdict for the plaintiff with truncated damages, it probably thought that the defendant had not been negligent at all or that its negligence had not caused the mishap; in either case the plaintiff's contributory negligence or lack thereof would be moot. It is unlikely that the mere giving of the instruction somehow signaled to the jury the judge's belief that the verdict should be for the defendant.

    25

    The remaining questions concern the judge's exclusion of evidence that the plaintiff sought to put before the jury. The exclusion of evidence about proper key-control procedures was proper for a reason we have already indicated: such evidence was not relevant to any plausible theory of the defendant's negligence. Also proper or at least defensible was the judge's decision to exclude evidence of previous criminal activity at Pheasant Run that did not involve breaking into a room through the sliding glass door. The judge admitted evidence of the nine previous break-ins that did. The principal evidence in the previous-crimes category that he excluded was of two alleged sexual assaults and eleven alleged thefts from rooms. This evidence was of limited relevance, at best. One of the so-called assaults involved a complaint from a man who said that he saw a man and woman having intercourse in a hallway and that he sprained his ankle pursuing the man; it is entirely unclear whether the intercourse was coerced or what the relationship of the complainant to the couple was. The circumstances of the other alleged assault are equally shadowy. Neither involved an intrusion into a room. The eleven reports of theft appear to include cases where a guest lost or mislaid an item as well as cases of genuine theft, but in any event are remote from the issues in this case; among other things, none involved forcing the sliding glass door.

    26

    A trial judge has broad discretion in administering Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which authorizes him to exclude relevant evidence if its probative significance is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial, confusing, or cumulative effect. Where as here the judge explains the reasoning process behind his exclusions, they will rarely be overturned. See United States v. Beasley, 809 F.2d 1273, 1278-79 (7th Cir.1987). Pheasant Run is a large place, and it is not to be supposed that it would be free of criminal activity no matter how careful (within the bounds of reason) the management was. There is no indication that its experience with criminal activity was abnormal or indicative of a need to take additional precautions. Maybe the jury should have been allowed to figure this out for itself, but a jury's ability to digest statistical evidence is limited, especially when no comparison was attempted by the plaintiff's counsel between the frequency of criminal activity at Pheasant 1560*1560 Run and at comparable resort hotels, cf. Anderson v. Malloy, 700 F.2d 1208, 1211-12 (8th Cir.1983), and no effort was made to show that precautions which would have averted crimes not involving the forcing of the sliding glass doors would also have averted the attack on Mrs. McCarty.

    27

    She also complains about the exclusion from evidence of advertisements for locks for sliding glass doors. These locks are designed to foil intruders, as the advertisements make clear, and Mrs. McCarty argues with some show of reason that the advertised locks appear to be more effective than the locks on the sliding glass doors at Pheasant Run. The problem is the absence of a causal relationship between the failure to have fancy locks and the attack on Mrs. McCarty. There is no evidence that Mrs. McCarty's assailant jimmied the lock. The door was unlocked. The world's fanciest lock — a lock to foil a Houdini — would thus have done her no good, and the failure to install a precaution that would not have avoided this accident (the accident that is the basis of the suit) is not actionable. Kveragas v. Scottish Inns, Inc., supra, 733 F.2d at 415. Her complaint about the exclusion of evidence of inadequate maintenance by the defendant of its sliding glass doors fails for the same reason; there is no indication that her failure to lock the door was due to improper maintenance. Finally, it is merely speculation that if the door had been equipped with a lock that locked automatically when the door was slid closed, the door would not have been left open with merely the safety chain fastened.

    28

    AFFIRMED.

  • 2 Roberts v. Ramsbottom--"The Driver Who Had a Stroke"

    Should a medical episode absolve actors of their duty of care?

    1

    [QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION : MANCHESTER]

    ROBERTS AND OTHERS V. RAMSBOTTOM

    1979 Jan. 31; Feb. 7 F Neill J.
    2

    Road Traffic—Negligence—Automatism as defence—Collision— Motorist unknowingly suffering from stroke unaware of unfitness to drive—Consciousness impaired or clouded but some awareness of surroundings and traffic conditions—Whether automatism—Whether negligence

    3

    The defendant, who suffered a cerebral haemorrhage unknown to himself, entered and drove his car on a road in a town; he was unaware throughout that he was unfit to drive but his consciousness was impaired or clouded, he had some awareness of his surroundings and the traffic conditions and made a series of deliberate and voluntary though inefficient movements with his hands and legs to manipulate the car controls. He suddenly experienced feelings of queerness and collided with a stationary van. Still unaware that he was unfit to drive, he drove away and then into collision with a vehicle which was parked at the roadside on his near side; as a result the parked vehicle was damaged and its driver and a passenger were injured. The plaintiffs, he vehicle owner, the driver and the passenger, claimed damages from the defendant for loss and personal injuries caused by his negligent driving. The defendant denied negligence and pleaded that he was acting in a state of automatism and was not responsible for his actions.

    4

    On the question of liability: —

    6Held8

    Page 824.

    10

    The following cases are referred to in the judgment:

    12

    Glasgow Corporation v. Muir [1943] A.C. 448; [1943] 2 All E.R. 44,H.L.(Sc). Gordon v. Wallace (1973) 42 D.L.R. (3d) 342. Hill v. Baxter [1958] 1 Q.B. 277; [1958] 2 W.L.R. 76; [1958] 1 All E.R. 193, D.C. Jones v. Dennison [1971] R.T.R. 174, C.A. Nettleship v. Weston [1971] 2 Q.B. 691; [1971] 3 W.L.R. 370; [1971] 3 All E.R. 581, C.A. Reg. v. Gosney [1971] 2 Q.B. 674; [1971] 3 W.L.R. 343; [1971] 3 All E.R. 220, C.A. Reg. v. Isitt [1978] R.T.R. 211, C.A. Reg. v. Spurge [1961] 2 Q.B. 205; [1961] 3 W.L.R. 23; [1961] 2 All E.R. 688, CCA. Watmore v. Jenkins [1962] 2 Q.B. 572; [1962] 2 W.L.R. 463; [1962] 2 All E.R. 868, D.C. Waugh v. James K. Allan Ltd. [1964] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 1, H.L.(Sc). No additional cases were cited in argument.

    13

    ACTION

    14

    By writ issued on June 30, 1976, the first plaintiff, Jack Roberts, the second plaintiff, Jean Roberts, wife of the first plaintiff, and the third plaintiff, Karen Jane Roberts, daughter of the first and second plaintiffs, suing by her father and next friend, brought against the defendant, Arthur Ramsbottom, an action for damages for personal injuries and loss caused by the defendant's negligent driving of a Volvo motor car on June 4, 1976, in Bolton Road, Bury, Lancashire, when it collided with a stationary Triumph motor car owned by the first plaintiff and caused injuries to the second and third plaintiffs. The defendant denied negligence. The facts are stated in the judgment.

    15

    John Stannard for the plaintiffs. H. K. Goddard and R. D. Machell for the defendant.

    16

    Cur. adv. vult.

    18

    Page 825.

    20

    Roberts also was injured but less seriously. The Triumph car was damaged beyond repair. The collision took place at about 10.20 a.m.

    22

    No criticism whatever is made of Mrs. Roberts's driving. It is accepted on behalf of the defendant that the facts which I have outlined and which are not in dispute would, if unexplained, entitle the plaintiffs to damages caused by negligent driving by the defendant. The first plaintiff, Mr. Jack Roberts, sues in respect of the damage to his car and in respect of certain other loss resulting from the collision. His claim is agreed subject to liability at £968.87. The second plaintiff is Mrs. Jean Roberts. She was the driver. She sues in respect of the injuries she suffered. The third plaintiff is Miss Karen Roberts, the daughter. She also sues for damages for personal injuries.

    23

    The defendant is Mr. Arthur Ramsbottom. He lives at 396, Brandles-holme Road, Bury. He was born on December 2, 1902. He was therefore 73 at the date of the collision. His defence is that approximately 20 minutes before the collision he suffered a stroke, that is, a cerebral haemorrhage, which so clouded his consciousness that from that moment he was, through no fault of his own, unable properly to control his car or to appreciate that he was no longer fit to drive. Accordingly, argued n Mr. Goddard on behalf of the defendant, the defendant was not negligent.

    24

    It is therefore necessary for me to consider the evidence as to the defendant's driving before the collision and the medical evidence as to the effect of his stroke. It is also necessary for me to consider the relevant principles of law.

    25

    The defendant's journey to Bolton Road

    26

    By profession the defendant was an accountant. When he was 65 he retired from full-time work but he continued to go to work for part of the day. He used to drive every day from his home at 396, Brandlesholme Road to his office in East Street in Bury. It was a journey of about two miles or a little more. Sometimes his wife went with him in order to go shopping. On June 4, 1976, he got ready to leave about 10 o'clock. It was a day his wife was going to go with him. Mrs. Ramsbottom went upstairs to get her coat. She came down. She found that her husband had gone without her. She was astonished because he had never gone off like this before, leaving her behind when he had arranged to take her. It was so unusual an event that after a time she telephoned the police.

    27

    Meanwhile, the defendant had set off towards the centre of Bury in his blue Volvo car. There was no evidence before me relating to the earlier part of his journey. The defendant himself cannot now remember any part of his journey or any of the events of that morning and no other witness threw light on the defendant's movement before he reached Irwell Street. I am entitled to infer, however, and I do infer, that the defendant drove down Brandlesholme Road from his home at number 396 and then along Crostons Road into Bolton Street and round the roundabout into the continuation of Bolton Street on the east side of the roundabout. If he had followed his usual route the defendant would have then continued eastwards to the Market Place, turned right into Market Street and then driven into Angouleme Way and Spring Street to his office in East Street. On that morning, however, instead of following his usual route, the defendant turned south just beyond the roundabout in Bolton Street and went down Irwell Street.

    28

    About half-way along Irwell Street on the east side there is a police

    29

    Page 826.

    31

    station. About 10.15 a.m. on June 4, 1976, there was a van parked out-side the police station. Sitting in the van were Mr. Kay and Mr. Banks. They were waiting for a colleague. Both Mr. Kay and Mr. Banks gave evidence and there was some conflict of recollection between them about what they saw. I prefer the evidence of Mr. Banks and I accept his account of what happened. This is what he said. He was sitting in the van when he felt a bang at the rear of the van. He got out and saw that the off side corner at the back of the van had been hit by a blue Volvo. It was the defendant's car. The Volvo was at an angle as though it had been trying to overtake too late. The defendant tried to reverse. He had difficulty in getting into gear and when he reversed he moved the car in a jerky manner. Mr. Banks walked back to where the car was. By then the defendant had got out and was walking across the road to the path on the other side. As he crossed the road the defendant was narrowly missed by a gas board van. Mr. Banks asked him if he was all right. He said, " Yes, yes, yes." Mr. Banks asked him if he was sure. " Yes, yes," he said. The defendant gave Mr. Banks the impression that he was slightly dazed and his speech seemed slightly slurred. Mr. Banks noticed when the defendant crossed the road that he had an uneven gait. The defendant got back in his car and moved forward. He pulled up just behind the van, only a foot away. Once more he had to reverse. Mr. Banks again asked him if he was all right and he said he was. "Are you sure now? " said Mr. Banks. "Yes," said the defendant. After he had reversed the second time the defendant drove forward. On this occasion he avoided the van by a good margin and drove off down Irwell Street. As the defendant went down the road, however, Mr. Banks saw that he narrowly missed two men working in the road who waved and shouted. The defendant passed from view. A few minutes later Mr. Banks was joined by the third man in the van and he drove off. By chance his route took him to Bolton Road. There he saw the blue Volvo again. It was outside the Laundercentre. It had collided with the Triumph. The defendant was walking about in the road in a dazed condition.

    32

    It is clear that from Irwell Street the defendant had driven across into Tenterden Street and had then turned right into Millett Street. At the end of Millett Street he turned left into Bolton Street and then along Bolton Road. In Bolton Road, about 100 yards or so before he collided with the Triumph, the defendant's car brushed past a boy on a bicycle. The boy, young Mr. Hardman, was just by the Manchester Motor Mart in Bolton Road. He was riding a few inches from the kerb. He was knocked off his bicycle and fell on the pavement. There was plenty of room in the road for the defendant to have passed him normally. A few moments later Mr. Hardman saw the defendant's car crash into the Triumph.

    33

    The distance travelled by the defendant from his home to where he collided with the Triumph car was about two-and-a-half miles and involved travelling round a busy part of Bury and going round a number of corners.

    34

    The events following the collision

    35

    After the collision Mrs. Roberts, Karen and the defendant were taken together by ambulance to hospital. At the hospital it was not appreciated at once that the defendant had had a stroke.

    36

    Page 827.

    38

    At 11.30 a.m. he was seen at the hospital by Police Constable Flanagan. No criticism whatever can be made of the constable for interviewing the defendant. He had asked a nurse if he could see the defendant and had been told that he could. He described the defendant as appearing to be dazed. Constable Flanagan told the defendant that he was making inquiries about the collision. He cautioned the defendant. This is what the defendant told him: " I suddenly felt queer and I ran into the van. I felt all right after that and I carried on. I felt queer again later and I hit the car." A little later he said: " I felt a bit queer before I ran into the van. I went away and felt all right. After that I felt a bit queer again and I hit the other car." The defendant that morning was also questioned by the medical staff at the hospital. I have not seen the hospital notes but it is common ground that the relevant parts of the hospital notes were reproduced by Dr. Riley in a letter which he wrote to the defendant's insurers dated August 24, 1976. The second paragraph of that letter contains these sentences:

    39

    "He was then driving his car at about 10 a.m. when he felt rather dizzy for about 15 minutes and then nauseated. He kept on driving and then he remembers crashing his car before losing consciousness and he was apparently unconscious for about two minutes. He was admitted to Bury General Hospital."

    40

    I am satisfied that the information in that paragraph and in the hospital notes must have come originally from the defendant. I consider, however, that there is force in Mr. Goddard's argument, which was supported by the medical evidence, that the information may well have been based on questions and answers and the defendant may have done no more than say yes to various questions which were put to him. I do not therefore attach great importance to what the defendant appears to have told the doctors. But I do attach considerable significance to the defendant's interview with Constable Flanagan. There is no suggestion that the police officer put any words into the defendant's mouth.

    41

    The medical evidence

    42

    On the day after the collision the defendant was seen by Dr. M. E. Benaim, a consultant physician at Bury General Hospital, where the defendant had been detained. By this stage the defendant was unable to remember anything about his journey to Bolton Road. I understand it is typical for a stroke to be followed by progressive amnesia. He told Dr. Benaim he had blacked out and could not remember any more. The defendant was under Dr. Benaim's care at the hospital. He was very confused for several days and was discharged after about a fortnight. Dr. Benaim was satisfied that the defendant had had a stroke and also thought at one time that he might have had an epileptic attack as well. He agreed with Dr. Evans (to whose evidence I shall have to refer later) that the stroke probably started just before the defendant left home. He expressed the following opinions. First, that once the stroke had started the defendant would not have been completely normal and he would not have been able to judge the quality of his own driving. Secondly, that the defendant's mental condition following the onset of the stroke could be correctly termed a clouding of consciousness. Thirdly, in order to drive in traffic it is necessary for a driver to exercise his will and his capacity to think, and that when stopping and giving way to approaching traffic a

    43

    Page 828.

    45

    deliberate decision has to be made. Fourthly, on the subject of what the defendant said to the police officer and may have told the medical staff on June 4, 1976, Dr. Benaim said that he was not certain that the defendant would in fact have felt dizzy and that when he saw the defendant the next day, he himself would not have placed any reliance on what the defendant said. In cross-examination, however, he agreed that the case notes might be an accurate account of what the defendant actually ex-perienced and, further, that he had no reason to doubt that what the defendant said to the police officer was accurate.

    46

    The main medical evidence called on behalf of the defendant was the evidence of Dr. John Evans, who is a consultant neurologist of the Salford Group of Hospitals and a lecturer in medicine at the University of Manchester. In addition to giving oral evidence he produced a medical report dated July 11, 1977. In the witness box Dr. Evans told me that he remained of the opinion expressed in that report. I shall therefore refer to that part of his report under the heading " Conclusion: "

    47

    "At my examination today"—that is July 11, 1977—" Mr. Ramsbottom shows evidence of a moderately severe left hemiparesis with sensory loss down the left side of the body and sensory inattention to visual stimuli in the left half of his visual field. In addition he shows an impairment of intellect characterised by a marked impairment of short term memory. These neurological signs have been present since the episode on June 4, 1976. I am of the opinion that while his wife was upstairs changing preparatory to going out, Mr. Ramsbottom sustained a stroke causing severe disorientation of thought and impairment of memory, weakness of the left side of the body and inattention of his left visual field. It was in this disorientated condition that he went off in his car, forgetting to take his wife with him, and it was in the same disorientated state that he collided with the bicycle and the van and the car. It is clear that Mr. Ramsbottom was ill at the time of this incident, he did not fully appreciate what he was doing and he had no full control over his movements. He was, in effect, acting in a state of automatism and he was not responsible for his actions. At the same time Mr. Ramsbottom was not aware of the severity of his incapacity and he was not in a position to judge whether or not he was fit enough to take the wheel of his car. He has made a partial recovery from his stroke but still remains severely incapacitated. He is not fit to drive a car. He will continue to need help and care and attention from his wife."

    48

    Then Dr. Evans dealt with the suggestion that the defendant might have suffered an epileptic fit and expressed the view that in his opinion he had not.

    49

    In his evidence-in-chief Dr. Evans repeated what he had said in his report about automatism. He said that in his view there was no evidence in favour of an epileptic fit having occurred and that he was certain when the defendant had been driving along he was not capable of forming any rational opinion as to whether he was able to drive. And later he said that the clouding of consciousness resulted in the defendant being unable to appreciate fully what had happened or to appreciate that he was incapable of driving the car properly. He described, as I have said, the defendant's condition as a clouding of consciousness. He also expressed the opinion that a person in the defendant's condition on June 4 following his stroke

    50

    Page 829.

    52

    would have given a most misleading account to a police officer or anyone else as to what had happened. In cross-examination, however, Dr. Evans accepted that a person in the defendant's condition might have felt queer and rather dizzy and might have experienced a feeling of nausea. He also agreed that the defendant could have experienced what he described to the police officer.

    53

    He was also questioned about the extent of the defendant's conscious-ness. He agreed that the defendant was not unconscious but that his consciousness was impaired or clouded from the time he set out. He accepted that the defendant's movements in driving were deliberate movements and that to drive along the route which the defendant followed involved purposeful acts. He described the defendant's state at the time of collision with the Triumph as a state of impaired consciousness. Never-theless, Dr. Evans remained unshaken in his evidence that the defendant did not know that he was driving badly or that he was unfit to drive. He told me that after the initial onset of the stroke further damage to the brain would have occurred all the time during the next hour or so. During that period the defendant's capacity to drive might have fluctuated somewhat but his physical condition must have got worse.

    54

    I have summarised the main points of the evidence and I must now state my findings of fact in relation to the defendant's driving and his condition when driving. It is not in dispute that the circumstances of the collision establish a prima facie case of negligence. I can set out my findings shortly as follows.

    55

    First, I find that the defendant suffered a stroke on June 4, 1976, and that the onset of the stroke began shortly before he left home at about 10 a.m. Second, before he suffered that stroke the defendant had had no previous symptoms or warning signs. Third, that following the onset of the stroke the defendant's consciousness was impaired. Fourth, that this state of impaired or clouded consciousness continued throughout the defendant's journey from his home to the point of impact in Bolton Road. Fifth, that the defendant did experience the feelings of queerness which he described to the police officer and did know at the time it happened that he had hit the van. Sixth, that throughout the journey to Bolton Road and up to the moment of impact with the Triumph car the defendant was sufficiently in possession of his faculties (a) to have some though an impaired awareness of his surroundings and the traffic conditions; and (b) to make a series of deliberate and voluntary though inefficient movements of his hands and legs to manipulate the controls of his car. Seventh, that the defendant was at no time aware of the fact that he was unfit to drive; accordingly no moral blame can be attached to him for continuing to do so.

    56

    I must turn therefore to consider the law applicable to these facts. The standard of care by which a driver's actions are to be judged in an action based on negligence is an objective standard. Every driver, includ-ing a learner driver:

    57

    "must drive in as good a manner as a driver of skill, experience and care, who is sound in wind and limb, who makes no errors of judgment, has good eyesight and hearing and is free from any infirmity: ..." see Lord Denning M.R. in Nettleship v. Weston [1971] 2 Q.B. 691, 699.

    58

    It is the same standard as that which is applied in the criminal law in relation to offences of dangerous driving and driving without due care

    60

    Page 830.

    62

    and attention. The standard " eliminates the personal equation and is independent of the idiosyncrasies of the particular person whose conduct is in question ": see the speech of Lord Macmillan in Glasgow Corporation v. Muir [1943] A.C. 448,457.

    63

    As Salmon L.J. said in Nettleship v. Weston [1971] 2 Q.B. 691, 703: "On grounds of public policy, neither the criminal nor civil responsibility is affected by the fact that the driver in question may be a learner, infirm or drunk." The liability of a driver in tort is not, however, a strict liability. Nor is the offence of dangerous driving an absolute offence. In Reg. v. Gosney [1971] 2 Q.B. 674 Megaw L.J., in relation to a charge of dangerous driving, said, at p. 680:

    64

    " It is not an absolute offence. In order to justify a conviction there must be, not only a situation which, viewed objectively, was angerous, but there must also have been some fault on the part of the driver, causing that situation. 'Fault' certainly does not necessarily involve deliberate misconduct or recklessness or intention to drive in a manner inconsistent with proper standards of driving. Nor does fault necessarily involve moral blame. Thus there is fault if an inexperienced or a naturally poor driver, while straining every nerve to do the right thing, falls below the standard of a competent and care-ful driver. Fault indicates a failure, a falling below the care or skill of a competent and experienced driver, in relation to the manner of the driving and to the relevant circumstances of the case. A fault in that sense, even though it be slight, even though it be a momentary lapse, even though normally no danger would have arisen from it, is sufficient."

    65

    As Megaw L.J. said a little later in his judgment in Reg v. Gosney [1971] 2 Q.B. 674, 680: " Such a fault will often be sufficiently proved as an inference from the very facts of the situation." But there may be cases where the driver will be able to raise some matter sufficient to avoid the inference of fault.

    66

    In the criminal cases concerned with dangerous driving guidance is given as to the circumstances in which some sudden event will provide a defence. In Reg. v. Spurge [1961] 2 Q.B. 205 Salmon J., in delivering the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal, said, at p. 210:

    67

    "If, however, a motor-car endangers the public solely by reason of some sudden overwhelming misfortune suffered by the man at the wheel for which he is in no way to blame—if, for example, he suddenly has an epileptic fit or passes into a coma, or is attacked by a swarm of bees or stunned by a blow on the head from a stone, then he is not guilty of driving in a manner dangerous to the public ... It would be otherwise if he had felt an illness coming on but still continued to drive, for that would have been a manifestly dangerous thing to do."

    68

    A little later, in relation to a defect in the vehicle, he went on, at pp. 210-211:

    69

    " There does not seem to this court to be any real distinction between a man being suddenly deprived of all control of a motor-car by some sudden affliction of his person and being so deprived by some defect suddenly manifesting itself in the motor-car. In both cases the motorcar is suddenly out of control of its driver through no fault of his."

    70

    Page 831.

    72

    In the course of his judgment, at p. 210, Salmon J. also explained that the defendant in what may be called the " sudden affliction " cases may be able to escape liability on the additional ground that he was not driving at all. It was this ground which was considered by the Divisional Court in Hill v. Baxter [1958] 1 Q.B. 277. Lord Goddard C.J. said, at p. 283: "... there may be cases where the circumstances are such that the accused could not really be said to be driving at all." And Pearson J. put the matter in these terms, at p. 286:

    73

    "In any ordinary case, when once it has been proved that the accused was in the driving seat of a moving car, there is, prima facie, an obvious and irresistible inference that he was driving it. No dispute or doubt will arise on that point unless and until there is evidence tending to show that by some extraordinariy mischance he was ren-dered unconscious or otherwise incapacitated from controlling the car."

    74

    In civil cases too a defendant may be able to rebut a prima facie case of negligence by showing that a sudden affliction has rendered him unconscious or otherwise wholly incapable of controlling the vehicle. In Waugh v. James K. Allan Ltd. [1964] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 1 it was contended in the Inner House of the Court of Session that the driver had been driving negligently. But Lord Clyde L.P., in his judgment in the Inner House of the Court of Session, said, at p. 2:

    75

    " In the first place it was contended that Gemmell was driving his lorry in a negligent and dangerous manner and was therefore guilty of negligence. But it seems to me clear on the evidence that the " driver was at the time of the accident to the pursuer so completely disabled by the sudden onset of the coronary thrombosis as to have ceased to be responsible for the alarming manoeuvres of his lorry, and the Lord Ordinary had ample evidence upon which he was entitled to negative this ground of fault."

    76

    This ground of negligence was not pursued in the House of Lords, where the only question which was debated was whether the driver should have realised that he was unfit to drive.

    77

    Jones v. Dennison [1971] R.T.R. 174 is a similar case. The driver, who was an epileptic, had a sudden blackout but the argument in the Court of Appeal was concerned wholly with the question whether he was or ought reasonably to have been aware of a tendency on his part to suffer a blackout: see also the Canadian case of Gordon v. Wallace (1973) 42 D.L.R. (3d) 342, and the cases there referred to.

    78

    In the present case, however, I am not concerned with a total loss of consciousness but with a clouding or impairment of consciousness. I must turn again for assistance to the criminal cases where specific consideration has been given to what is called the defence of automatism.

    79

    In Watmore v. Jenkins [1962] 2 Q.B. 572 the defendant was charged with three offences including dangerous driving and driving without due care and attention. The defendant was a diabetic who had had an attack of infective hepatitis. In the course of driving home from his office he suffered a hypoglycaemic episode and in a gradually worsening state of concussion he drove from Mitcham to a point about five miles away in Coulsdon where he crashed into the back of a car. The defendant had no recollection of this part of his journey and had had no warning of the

    80

    Page 832.

    82

    onset of the episode. The justices acquitted the defendant on the grounds that at all material times he was in a state of automatism. The Divisional Court, consisting of five judges presided over by Lord Parker C.J., remitted the case to the justices with a direction to convict. Winn J. who delivered the judgment of the court, said, at p. 586:

    83

    " It is ... a question of law what constitutes a state of automatism . . . this expression is no more than a modern catch-phrase which the courts have not accepted as connoting any wider or looser concept than involuntary movement of the body or limbs of a person."

    84

    And later, at p. 587, he referred to " such a complete destruction of voluntary control as could constitute in law automatism."

    85

    To the same effect was the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Reg. v. Isitt [1978] R.T.R. 211. Lawton L.J. referred to acts done during an epileptic attack and continued, at p. 216: " What the accused does in those circumstances is involuntary. Acts performed involuntarily have come to be known as automatism." But he added, at p. 216:

    86

    "It is a matter of human experience that the mind does not always operate in top gear. There may be some difficulty in functioning. If the difficulty does not amount in law to either insanity or automatism, is the accused to be entitled to say ' I am not guilty because my mind was not working in top gear'? In our judgment he is not."

    87

    In Reg. v. Isitt [1978] R.T.R. 211 there was medical evidence that at the material time the defendant was suffering from some malfunction of the mind. But the facts showed that he had driven in that state for a considerable distance and his driving was described by Lawton L.J., at p. 216, as " purposeful driving."

    88

    Finally, the decision of the Divisional Court in Hill v. Baxter [1958] 1 Q.B. 277 to which I have already referred, provides additional support for the proposition that in law a state of automatism involves a complete loss of consciousness.

    89

    I am satisfied that in a civil action a similar approach should be adopted. The driver will be able to escape liability if his actions at the relevant time were wholly beyond his control. The most obvious case is sudden unconsciousness. But if he retained some control, albeit imperfect control, and his driving, judged objectively, was below the required standard, he remains liable. His position is the same as a driver who is old or infirm. In my judgment unless the facts establish what the law recognises as automatism the driver cannot avoid liability on the basis that owing to some malfunction of the brain his consciousness was impaired. Mr. Stannard put the matter accurately, as I see it, when he said: " One cannot accept as exculpation anything less than total loss of consciousness."

    90

    It is true that in the present case Dr. Evans described the defendant's condition as one of automatism. I am satisfied, however, that his con-dition did not amount to automatism as that word has been used in the decided cases.

    91

    I therefore consider that the defendant is liable in law for his driving when he collided with the Triumph car in Bolton Road.

    92

    I also consider that the plaintiffs would be entitled to succeed, if necessary, on the alternative ground put forward, that is, that the defendant continued to drive when he was unfit to do so and when he should have

    93

    Page 833.

    94

    been aware of his unfitness. He was aware that he had been feeling queer and had hit the van. Owing to his mental state he was unable to appreciate that he should have stopped. As I have said, and I repeat, the defendant was in no way morally to blame, but that is irrelevant to the question of legal liability in this case. An impairment of judgment does not provide a defence. I consider that the defendant was in law guilty of negligence in continuing to drive because he was aware of his disabling symptoms and of his first collision even though he was not able to appreciate their proper significance.

    96

    I turn therefore to the question of damages. [His Lordship considered the evidence relating to damages, and continued:] In those circumstances the damages will be as I have already stated: that is, for the first plaintiff £968-87; for the second plaintiff £700; and for the third plaintiff C £2,500.

    97

    Judgment for plaintiffs accordingly together with interest to be agreed and costs. Liberty to apply. Legal aid taxation of plaintiffs' costs. Stay for 28 days.

    98

    Solicitors: Frederick Howarth Son & Maitland, Bury; A. W. Mower & Co., Manchester.

    99

    L. N. W.

  • 3 Bashi v. Wodarz--"The Driver Who Wigged Out"

    Does mental illness count as a “sudden affliction” as defined in Roberts?

    1
    45 Cal.App.4th 1314 (1996)
    2
    MUBARAK BASHI et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
    v.
    MARGIE MARIE WODARZ, Defendant and Respondent.
    3
    Docket No. F022797.
    4

    Court of Appeals of California, Fifth District.

    5
    May 23, 1996.
    6

    1316*1316 COUNSEL

    7

    Ralph J. Rubenstein for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

    8

    Clifford & Brown, Michael L. O'Dell and Stephen P. Wainer for Defendant and Respondent.

    9

    OPINION

    10

    ARDAIZ, P.J.

    11

    Defendant and respondent, Margie Marie Wodarz, was involved in a rear-end auto accident with a third party. According to the traffic collision report, respondent left the scene without stopping. A short time later, respondent was involved in a second automobile accident with the plaintiffs and appellants, Mubarak Bashi and Nasim Akhtar.

    12

    Respondent has little recollection of either event occurring. According to the traffic report, respondent engaged in some "bizarre" behavior before and after the collision with appellants. Under the heading of "Statement of Witnesses and Remarks" the traffic report contains the following remarks with respect to respondent's statement: "... Somewhere, shortly after making the turn, she stated, `I wigged out.' She stated that all she could remember was ramming into the back of someone's vehicle and then continuing east. She had no control of her actions at that time and then she remembered being involved in a second collision at an unknown location on White Lane. She also stated, `My family has a history of mental problems and I guess I just freaked out.'"

    13

    Appellants filed a complaint for negligence. At nonbinding arbitration, appellants' claims were denied. The arbitrator made the following comments in support of his decision:

    14

    "Although a rear-end collision was involved whereby the Plaintiffs' vehicle was struck by Defendant's vehicle, Defendant produced unrebutted 1317*1317 medical expert evidence (Declaration of Terry Lanes, M.D.) indicating the accident was unavoidable due to the Defendant's `Sudden, unanticipated onset of mental illness' shortly before the impact.

    15

    "This evidence was also supported by the traffic accident report setting forth the actions and comments by the Defendant driver, Margie Marie Wodarz, immediately prior to and subsequent to the subject accident indicating uncontrollable mental illness of which the Defendant has no prior warning.

    16

    "Accordingly, under such circumstances, the Plaintiffs' claim is denied."

    17

    Appellants timely filed a request for trial de novo. Appellants' subsequent motion to reopen discovery, supported by counsel's declaration that the defense of a sudden onset of mental illness was "a complete surprise," was denied.

    18

    Thereafter, respondent filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 437c, arguing that due to the sudden, unanticipated mental disorder, respondent was not negligent as a matter of law and that no triable issue of material fact existed with respect to the issue that respondent was afflicted by the unforeseen onset of the mental disorder. Respondent's motion was granted. Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal from the judgment of dismissal.

    20
    DISCUSSION

    22
    A. Standard of Review
    23

    (1) On appeal from a summary judgment, "... it is the task of the reviewing court to determine whether the moving party has established facts which negate the opponent's claims and whether a triable issue of material fact has been shown." (Saldana v. Globe-Weis Systems Co. (1991) 233 Cal. App.3d 1505, 1515 [285 Cal. Rptr. 385].)

    24

    When summary judgment is granted in favor of the defendant, the defendant must either establish an affirmative defense to the cause of action or disprove at least one essential element of the cause of action. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (n).)

    25

    This court recently summarized the standard of review as follows:

    26

    "Summary judgment is proper if the supporting papers are sufficient to sustain a judgment in favor of the moving party as a matter of law and the 1318*1318 opposing party presents no evidence giving rise to a triable issue as to any material fact. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) To prevail on a summary judgment motion, the defendant must conclusively negate a necessary element of the plaintiff's case or establish a complete defense. [Citation.] Where the evidence presented by defendant does not support judgment in his favor, the motion must be denied without looking at the opposing evidence, if any, submitted by plaintiff. [Citation.] The evidence of the moving party is strictly construed and that of the opposing party liberally construed. [Citation.] Where there is no material issue of fact to be tried and the sole question before the court is one of law, it is the duty of the trial court on a motion for summary judgment to hear and determine the issue of law. [Citation.]

    27

    "In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, an appellate court must make its own independent determination of the construction and effect of the papers submitted. Review of the trial court's determination involves pure matters of law and requires reassessment of the legal significance of the documents. The reviewing court applies the same three-step analysis as that of the trial court: (1) identification of issues framed by the pleadings; (2) determination of whether the moving party has established facts which negate the opponent's claim and justify a judgment in movant's favor; and (3) determination of whether the opponent demonstrates the existence of a triable, material factual issue. [Citations.]" (Varni Bros. Corp. v. Wine World, Inc. (1995) 35 Cal. App.4th 880, 886-887 [41 Cal. Rptr.2d 740].)

    29
    B. Is sudden onset of mental illness a defense to negligent operation of a motor vehicle?
    30

    In order to affirm the trial court's granting of the summary judgment motion at issue, we must first identify the issues framed by the pleadings. In this case, the appellants filed a simple form complaint for negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

    31

    Secondly, we must determine whether the respondent's showing in the trial court established facts which negate the appellants' claim and justify a judgment in respondent's favor. At the trial court, respondent contended that due to respondent's sudden, unanticipated mental disorder, respondent was not negligent as a matter of law. Whether the sudden onset of mental illness is a defense to a negligence action in California is pivotal to the correctness of the trial court's ruling.

    32

    (2a) "California has approved the rule of Cohen v. Petty [(D.C. Cir.1933)] 65 F.2d 820 [62 App.D.C. 187], that as between an innocent passenger and an innocent fainting driver, the former must suffer." (Ford v. Carew 1319*1319 & English (1948) 89 Cal. App.2d 199, 203 [200 P.2d 828], citing Waters v. Pacific Coast Dairy, Inc. (1942) 55 Cal. App.2d 789 [131 P.2d 588].)

    33

    Under a line of appellate authorities beginning with Waters in 1942, these cases generally hold that a driver, suddenly stricken by an illness rendering the driver unconscious, is not chargeable with negligence. (Waters v. Pacific Coast Dairy, Inc., supra, 55 Cal. App.2d at pp. 791-793 [driver rendered unconscious from sharp pain in left arm]; Ford v. Carew & English, supra, 89 Cal. App.2d at pp. 203-204 [fainting spell from strained heart muscle]; Zabunoff v. Walker (1961) 192 Cal. App.2d 8, 11 [13 Cal. Rptr. 463] [jurors could have concluded that a sudden sneeze was an intervening cause similar to a fainting spell]; Tannyhill v. Pacific Motor Trans. Co. (1964) 227 Cal. App.2d 512, 520 [38 Cal. Rptr. 774] [heart attack]; Hammontree v. Jenner (1971) 20 Cal. App.3d 528, 530-531 [97 Cal. Rptr. 739] [loss of consciousness due to unexpected epileptic seizure].)

    34

    Although the driver in the Cohen case suffered a sudden illness rendering him unconscious, the court generally stated the rule regarding the effect of a sudden illness as follows: "It is undoubtedly the law that one who is suddenly stricken by an illness, which he had no reason to anticipate, while driving an automobile, which renders it impossible for him to control the car, is not chargeable with negligence." (Cohen v. Petty (D.C. Cir.1993) 65 F.2d 820, 821 [62 App.D.C. 187].)

    35

    Respondent admits that "no prior California decisions have decided whether the [Cohen] rule also applies when defendant suffers a sudden and unanticipated mental, as opposed to physical illness." Respondent urges this court to extend the Cohen rule to any sudden "illness," without distinction between physical and mental illness. She argues that the public policy rationale would remain the same; "i.e., as between an innocent injured party and an innocent ill driver, the innocent injured party must suffer." The basis behind the Cohen rule is related to the general concept of "`unavoidable accident.'" (6 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (9th ed. 1990) Torts, § 759, p. 98.) In California, our Supreme Court has addressed this concept in Butigan v. Yellow Cab Co. (1958) 49 Cal.2d 652 [320 P.2d 500, 65 A.L.R.2d 1]:

    36

    "In reality, the so-called defense of unavoidable accident has no legitimate place in our pleading. It appears to be an obsolete remnant from a time when damages for injuries to person or property directly caused by a voluntary act of the defendant could be recovered in an action of trespass and when strict liability would be imposed unless the defendant proved that the injury was caused through `inevitable accident.' Although exactly what was covered by this expression is not clear, it apparently included cases where the defendant 1320*1320 was utterly without fault. `Unavoidable accident' was then an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proved by the defendant.

    37

    ".... .... .... .... .... .... ....

    38

    "... `unavoidable or inevitable accident' ... `simply denote[s] an accident that occurred without having been proximately caused by negligence'...." (49 Cal.2d at pp. 658, 659.)

    39

    In effect, the concept of unavoidable accident is predicated upon absence of fault.

    40

    After consideration of state and national case law, the rationale behind respondent's argument and the policy consequences, we decline to extend the application of the Cohen rule to a sudden and unanticipated mental illness or disorder. (Cohen v. Petty, supra, 65 F.2d 820.)

    41

    "Mentally disabled persons usually have been classed with infants, and held liable for their torts." (Prosser & Keeton, The Law of Torts (5th ed. 1984) § 135, p. 1072; see 5 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law, supra, Torts, § 26, p. 86.) California is one of the few states to have codified the common law rule by statute. (Mullen v. Bruce (1959) 168 Cal. App.2d 494, 496 [335 P.2d 945, 77 A.L.R.2d 620] [Civ. Code, § 41]; see Splane, Tort Liability of the Mentally Ill in Negligence Actions (1983) 93 Yale L.J. 153, 155-156 [footnote 17 lists California, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota as states which have incorporated the common law into their statutes].)

    42

    Civil Code section 41, as originally enacted in 1872, provided: "A minor, or person of unsound mind, of whatever degree, is civilly liable for a wrong done by him, but is not liable in exemplary damages unless at the time of the act he was capable of knowing that it was wrongful."

    43

    Respondent concedes that Civil Code section 41 was revised, effective January 1, 1994, making no substantive changes except minors were deleted from its scope. Section 41 of the Civil Code now provides: "A person of unsound mind, of whatever degree, is civilly liable for a wrong done by the person, but is not liable in exemplary damages unless at the time of the act the person was capable of knowing that the act was wrongful." (Added by Stats. 1992, ch. 163, § 3, operative Jan. 1, 1994.)[1]

    44

    Prosser and Keeton have commented with respect to criticism of the common law rule (codified in Civ. Code, § 41) that: "So far as negligence 1321*1321 is concerned, the common law cases have usually said that an insane person is liable for failure to conform to the standard of conduct of the reasonable person, with the civil law in Louisiana going the other way. But there has been judicial as well as scholarly criticism of the common law rule, and Wisconsin has taken the view, supported by a Canadian decision, that where insanity occurs suddenly and without warning, it is to be treated like a heart attack, so that the insane defendant is not held to the reasonable man standard under those circumstances....

    45

    "In the light of these cases, the permanent direction of the law may be in doubt even now." (Prosser & Keeton, The Law of Torts, supra, § 135, pp. 1074-1075, fns. omitted.)

    46

    However, if the Legislature changes a law in a particular respect and fails to change it in other respects when the subject is generally before it, this is indicative of an intent to leave the law as it stands in the aspects not amended. (Butigan v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 49 Cal.2d at p. 666.)

    47

    Therefore, despite the criticism of the common law rule by scholars and the judicial decisions of a few other jurisdictions, Civil Code section 41 is evidence of a recent legislative intent to leave the law as it stands in California.

    48

    Respondent argues that Civil Code section 41 "speaks in terms of intentional acts, which would be subject to exemplary damages." It is true that section 41 limits the liability of persons of unsound mind for exemplary damages, but it also provides that a "person of unsound mind, of whatever degree, is civilly liable for a wrong done by the person." (Italics added.) By its terms, Civil Code section 41 is not limited to intentional torts, but rather applies to all "civil wrongs," including negligence. (See Brinck v. Bradbury (1918) 179 Cal. 376, 379 [176 P. 690] [incompetent liable for negligent operation of elevator owned by her and operated for her benefit].)

    49

    Civil Code section 41 is in accord with the Restatement Second of Torts, published in 1965, which provides in section 283 B: "Unless the actor is a child, his insanity or other mental deficiency does not relieve the actor from liability for conduct which does not conform to the standard of a reasonable man under like circumstances." (Rest.2d Torts, § 283 B, p. 16.)

    50

    The comment explaining Restatement Second of Torts section 283 B, found at page 17, provides:

    51

    "a. If the actor is a child, his mental deficiency is taken into account. See § 283 A.

    52

    1322*1322 "b. The rule that a mentally deficient adult is liable for his torts is an old one, dating back at least to 1616, at a time when the action for trespass rested upon the older basis of strict liability, without regard to any fault of the individual. Apart from mere historical survival, its persistence in modern law has been explained on a number of different grounds. These are as follows:

    53

    "1. The difficulty of drawing any satisfactory line between mental deficiency and those variations of temperament, intellect, and emotional balance which cannot, as a practical matter, be taken into account in imposing liability for damage done.

    54

    "2. The unsatisfactory character of the evidence of mental deficiency in many cases, together with the ease with which it can be feigned, the difficulties which the triers of fact must encounter in determining its existence, nature, degree, and effect; and some fear of introducing into the law of torts the confusion which has surrounded such a defense in the criminal law. Although this factor may be of decreasing importance with the continued development of medical and psychiatric science, it remains at the present time a major obstacle to any allowance for mental deficiency.

    55

    "3. The feeling that if mental defectives are to live in the world they should pay for the damage they do, and that it is better that their wealth, if any, should be used to compensate innocent victims than that it should remain in their hands.

    56

    "4. The belief that their liability will mean that those who have charge of them or their estates will be stimulated to look after them, keep them in order, and see that they do not do harm.

    57

    "c. Insane persons are commonly held liable for their intentional torts. While there are very few cases, the same rule has been applied to their negligence. As to mental deficiency falling short of insanity, as in the case of stupidity, lack of intelligence, excitability, or proneness to accident, no allowance is made, and the actor is held to the standard of conduct of a reasonable man who is not mentally deficient, even though it is in fact beyond his capacity to conform to it."

    58

    Section 283 C, page 18, of the Restatement Second of Torts concerns physical disabilities and provides: "If the actor is ill or otherwise physically disabled, the standard of conduct to which he must conform to avoid being negligent is that of a reasonable man under like disability."

    59

    Under comment b, page 18, explaining section 283 C, the Restatement Second of Torts discusses the effect of a sudden onset of a "transitory 1323*1323 delirium" as follows: "The same allowance [the reasonable man is identical with the actor] is made for physical, as distinguished from mental, illness. Thus a heart attack, or a temporary dizziness due to fever or nausea, as well as a transitory delirium, are regarded merely as circumstances to be taken into account in determining what the reasonable man would do. The explanation for the distinction between such physical illness and the mental illness dealt with in § 283 B probably lies in the greater public familiarity with the former, and the comparative ease and certainty with which it can be proved."

    60

    Although the respondent's sudden onset of mental illness might arguably be classified as a "transitory delirium" under the Restatement, such a classification is unlikely given that the "transitory delirium" is discussed in the comment relating to physical, as opposed to mental, disabilities. (Since the Restatement makes a distinction between physical and mental disabilities, it is more likely that the phrase "transitory delirium" used in the Restatement relates back to the previous phrase regarding the effects of fever.) In any event, in California, even a defendant who was suffering from alcoholism and who was in delirium tremens was found to be a "person of unsound mind" within the purview of Civil Code section 41. (Mullen v. Bruce, supra, 168 Cal. App.2d at p. 496.)

    61

    (3) We conclude that an evidentiary showing that respondent suffered a sudden and unanticipated mental illness which rendered it impossible for her to control her vehicle at the time of the alleged tort does not, as a matter of law, preclude her liability for negligence. This is based on a policy rationale. Clearly the insane or mentally disabled individual is not considered at fault in the traditional sense. However, because such individuals do create harm, the general rationale is that they should be held financially responsible to those they harm. Therefore, mental disability is not a defense. Liability is therefore predicated on an objective reasonable person standard. Unlike the rationale behind suspension of a liability for sudden physical illness which is based on fault, the fault concept is not analogous to a sudden mental disability. Thus, we do not perceive any logical rationale for barring mental illness as a defense to negligence but allowing sudden mental illness as a complete defense. We conclude sudden mental illness may not be posed as a defense to harmful conduct and that the harm caused by such individual's behavior shall be judged on the objective reasonable person standard in the context of a negligence action as expressed in Civil Code section 41.

    62

    Applying tort principles in the criminal context, this conclusion is supported by criminal decisions in this state which have touched on the issue. (See, e.g., People v. Castillo (1987) 193 Cal. App.3d 119, 124-125 [238 Cal. Rptr. 207] [mistake of fact defense cannot be predicated on delusions 1324*1324 which are a product of mental illness or mental retardation]; People v. Gutierrez (1986) 180 Cal. App.3d 1076, 1083 [225 Cal. Rptr. 885] ["[w]hile involuntary intoxication is a circumstance which may be considered in determining reasonableness, mental illness is not"]; People v. Mathews (1994) 25 Cal. App.4th 89 [30 Cal. Rptr.2d 330] [acknowledging that physical disability can be considered in determining the reasonableness of a person's conduct].)

    63

    Our conclusion that respondent's sudden onset of mental illness is not a defense to appellants' negligence action is also supported by the weight of authority in other jurisdictions. For example, in Turner v. Caldwell (1980) 36 Conn. Supp. 765 [421 A.2d 876], defendant, in a special defense, alleged (with language remarkably similar to the instant case) that she was suddenly stricken by mental illness which she had no reason to anticipate, thereby rendering it impossible for her to control her vehicle. The court granted the motion to strike this special defense, noting that "[t]he weight of authority is that insane persons are liable for the negligent acts." (421 A.2d at p. 877.)[2]

    64

    1325*1325 (2b) Because we have concluded that the sudden and unanticipated onset of mental illness is not a defense to an action based on the negligent operation of a motor vehicle, the summary judgment must be reversed. In view of this conclusion, it is not necessary to consider appellants' remaining contentions on appeal.

    65

    The summary judgment is reversed. Costs to appellant.

    66

    Martin, J., and Thaxter, J., concurred.

    68

    [1] Former Civil Code section 41 was repealed by Statutes 1993, chapter 219, section 2, page 1146. The current section 41 continues former Civil Code section 41 without substantial change, insofar as former section 41 related to a person of unsound mind. (22 Cal. Law Revision Com. Rep. (July 1992) p. 747.) With respect to minors, the substance of former Civil Code section 41 is continued in Family Code section 6600. (23 Cal. Law Revision Com. Rep. (Nov. 1993) p. 580.)

    70

    [2] See also Goff v. Taylor (Ky. Ct. App. 1986) 708 S.W.2d 113 (defendant suffering from brain disease or disorder not excused from wrongful death liability; commentators questioning long-standing common law rule do not attempt to reach fairness to victim); Schumann v. Crofoot (1979) 43 Or. App. 53 [602 P.2d 298] (mental illness not a defense to negligent conduct); Greenberg v. McCabe (E.D.Pa. 1978) 453 F. Supp. 765, 768, affd. (3d Cir.1979) 594 F.2d 854, cert. den. subnom. McCabe v. Greenberg (1979) 444 U.S. 840 [62 L.Ed.2d 51, 100 S.Ct. 78, 100 S.Ct. 79] ("in determining the reasonableness of a person's conduct, his or her illness or physical disability can be considered in defining the standard which he or she must meet, but ... a mental deficiency cannot be taken into account"); Jolley v. Powell (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1974) 299 So.2d 647, 649 (mentally deficient person subject to liability for negligent conduct); Kuhn v. Zabotsky (1967) 9 Ohio St.2d 129 [224 N.E.2d 137] (defendant alleged he had been suddenly stricken by a mental illness which he had no reason to anticipate and which rendered it impossible for him to control the car which he was driving; situation different from case where physical disability, caused by unconsciousness, made it impossible to control car; "where one party is mentally sound, blameless and injured and the other is at fault and mentally ill or insane, the loss which must be borne by someone should be suffered by the person at fault"); Delahanty v. Hinckley (D.D.C. 1992) 799 F. Supp. 184, 186-187 (court refused to reject historical rule of jurisdiction, requiring that an insane actor be held liable for compensation to the victims of his torts, reasoning that modern justifications for such a rule include: (1) using objective standard to determine primary negligence helps minimize the burden on the community from deinstitutionalization, (2) helps foster community acceptance of the mentally ill, and (3) encourages the mentally ill to become self-sufficient, responsible members of the community); cf. Anicet v. Gant (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1991) 580 So.2d 273 (distinguishing Mullen v. Bruce, supra, 168 Cal. App.2d 494 as involving "an interpretation of a California Code provision, which has no Florida equivalent, which specifically states that `a ... person of unsound mind ... is civilly liable for a wrong done by him...."; holding that violently insane resident of mental institution not liable to mental institution attendant for violent acts over which he had no control); see also Mujica v. Turner (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1991) 582 So.2d 24, 25, where the Anicet court acknowledged that "[a]lthough we agree that ordinarily a mental incompetent is responsible for his own torts [citations], we have recently held that this rule is inapplicable when the incompetent has been institutionalized, as here, because of her mental incompetency and injures one of her caretakers while in such institution."

  • 4 Miller v. Reilly--"The Defective Brakes Case"

    Should an actor's standard of care be relaxed by exigent circumstances—such as her car's brakes failing while the actor is driving downhill?

    1
    21 Md. App. 465 (1974)
    2
    319 A.2d 553
    3
    CHARLES L. MILLER ET AL.
    v.
    KATHLEEN THERESA REILLY ET AL.
    4
    No. 816, September Term, 1973.
    5

    Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

    6
    Decided May 29, 1974.
    7

    The cause was argued before MOYLAN, POWERS and GILBERT, JJ.

    8

    Robert R. Michael, with whom were Alan D. Massengill and Massengill & Michael on the brief, for appellants.

    9

    William D. Foote, Sr., with whom was Francis J. Ford on the brief, for appellees.

    10

    GILBERT, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

    11

    In July, 1972, Kathleen Theresa Reilly, appellee, then a student at Prince George's Community College, lived with her parents in an area not accessible by public transportation. Her father, John E. Reilly, the other appellee, purchased in September of 1971, a 1965 Comet for his daughter's use, primarily in going back and forth from school. Kathleen enjoyed the almost exclusive use of the vehicle.

    12

    On the night of July 7, 1972, Kathleen who had obtained a summer job as a salesperson, had left her place of work and was en route home. She was traveling on Riggs Road and when nearing University Boulevard was descending a hill. Kathleen observed that a traffic signal situated at the intersection of Riggs Avenue and University Boulevard was "red" for her. She applied the foot brake and to her dismay the pedal "went right to the floor." She was, in short, without foot brakes. Kathleen maneuvered her car from the center lane of the three lane northbound highway into the right hand or right turn lane. The vehicle continued down 467*467 the grade. At the bottom of the hill Kathleen attempted to complete a right turn onto University Boulevard, but apparently the momentum of the car prevented a successful turn. Her car jumped the median strip and collided with a 1965 Buick that was westbound on University Boulevard. The force of the impact rolled the Buick onto its right side. Both occupants of the Buick sustained personal injury.

    13

    At a trial before Judge Robert B. Mathias and a jury in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, the judge denied motions for directed verdict made in behalf of the respective parties and submitted the controversy to the jury. The jury rendered verdicts in favor of the defendants-appellees.

    14

    The appellants, Charles L. Miller and Anthony L. Rowek, vigorously attack, in this Court, Judge Mathias's denial of their motions for a directed verdict against Kathleen because she (1) failed to demonstrate, at trial, that she had tested the foot brake prior to the accident and, (2) failed to use the "emergency brake" when she had an opportunity to do so. Appellants also allege (3) reversible error because the judge instructed the jury on the "sudden emergency doctrine", notwithstanding Kathleen's failure to use the "emergency brake", and (4) that the judge erred in instructing the jury on the "sudden emergency doctrine" because the appellees did not demonstrate their "vehicle was equipped with a separate independent braking system."

    16
    I
    17

    To bolster their argument that Judge Mathias erred in not granting a motion for a directed verdict against Kathleen "due to her failure to demonstrate prior testing by the simple foot pressure test", the appellants cite us to Sothoron v. West, 180 Md. 539, 26 A.2d 16 (1942) and its sequelae. In Sothoron Judge Marbury for the Court said, at 543-44:

    18
    "The appellee offered as an excuse for the accident the fact that her brakes did not hold. She offered no evidence of any inspection. She testified to a drive which carried her through a number of city blocks and intersections. It is almost 468*468 inconceivable that during the course of such a drive she did not at some time or other have occasion to use the foot brake. Her testimony, however, negatives this. The question before us, therefore, is whether the fact that her brakes suddenly failed her excuses her from the charge of negligence, when she has driven a number of city blocks without making the slightest test of these brakes, until their first use in the descent of a steep hill, where she has to rely on them for her safety and for the safety of other occupants of the highway.
    19
    We do not think the appellee is excused. This is not the case of a latent defect which could not have been discovered. A person driving a strange car for the first time owes a duty to the public to see that there are no obvious defects in its mechanism which are apt to cause injury to others. Defective brakes are obvious, because they can be detected by the simple pressure of a foot. The test is so simple that anyone can make it. If such a test shows the brakes in working order, and then they suddenly fail, the driver may not be liable for negligence in driving with them. If no test is made, if the brakes are not even tried, the driver cannot rely upon a presumption that the machine is safe. He will not then be excused from liability for the destruction he may cause upon the public highway, because he did not know his brakes were bad."
    20

    Sothoron, however, is readily distinguishable as there is in Sothoron no testimony whatsoever of the driver's use of the foot brake at any time prior to its failure immediately preceding the collision. The record in the instant case, however, reveals that Kathleen, the usual operator of the Comet, testified on direct examination:

    21
    "Q.... Prior to the time when your brakes went out... on Riggs Road, ... as you were approaching the intersection of University Boulevard ... did you have any trouble with your brakes?
    22
    469*469 A. No, sir.
    23
    Q. Had you ever noticed any difficulty in braking or slowing your vehicle to a stop?
    24
    A. No, sir."
    25

    On cross-examination she was asked:

    26
    "Q.... [Y]ou testified that you had had no prior problems with the brake, is that what I am to understand?
    27
    A. Yes, sir."
    28

    Then on redirect Kathleen deposed:

    29
    "Q.... [You were asked] about school and summer employment.... Where indeed were you coming from when this accident happened?
    30
    A. From my summer employment.
    31
    * * *
    32
    Q.... What kind of a job did you have over there?
    33
    A. Sales person.
    34
    Q. What were your hours?
    35
    A. That night?
    36
    Q. Yes.
    37
    A. That night it was from 12:30 to 9:30.
    38
    Q. So, you were on your way home from work is that right?
    39
    A. Yes, sir.
    40
    Q. And, did you usually drive to and from work in the Comet?
    41
    A. Yes, sir.
    42
    Q. And, now that day going to the [place of employment] and then again returning and prior to the time that you had the brake failure had you had any trouble with the car or the brakes?
    43
    A. No, sir."
    44

    470*470 Such testimony is in our view sufficient to submit the question of Kathleen's use of the brakes on the date of the accident to the jury for its determination. We point to the fact that on the day of the accident Kathleen drove the Comet to work. She worked that day for nine hours. It is obvious if she drove to work and then actually worked in a department store she of necessity would have had to apply the brakes of the car in order to halt it when she arrived at her place of employment. Furthermore, there was testimony that new brakes had been installed on the Comet at the time of purchase and, the vehicle had only been driven 6,000 miles following the installation of the brakes in the "early fall of 1971." John Reilly informed the jury that he periodically drove the Comet in order to inspect it, and that in June, 1972, he took the vehicle to a service station for an oil change. While there he noticed that the brakes "were down a little", and in order to correct that he "had the brakes adjusted to bring them back up to where they should be." Such testimony on the part of the defendants-appellees is similar to that present in the case of Garfinkle v. Birnios, 232 Md. 402, 194 A.2d 91 (1963), where there was evidence that the brakes had been inspected several weeks before the accident. The Court of Appeals in Garfinkle indicated that an instruction to the jury that when a defendant has made proper inspection of the brakes of his vehicle, and the jury so finds, then the law is that if the brakes were "in working order and then they suddenly fail, the driver may not be liable for negligence in driving with them." To the same effect see Larsen v. Romeo, 254 Md. 220, 255 A.2d 387 (1969).

    45

    Judge J. DeWeese Carter (specially assigned) wrote for the Court of Appeals in Wood v. Johnson, 242 Md. 446, 219 A.2d 231 (1966), at 454:

    46
    "... [T]hat the showing of a brake failure makes a prima facie case of a violation of § 291 of Article 66 1/2[[1]] and, if such violation is further shown to be the proximate cause of the accident, the then 471*471 permissible inference of negligence must be controverted by a showing of adequate inspection and a sudden unexpected failure."
    47

    Sudden brake failure is a fact of motoring life; it is unfortunately a part of our mechanized society. Because machines are known to break without prior warning, automobiles should be periodically inspected by the owners. Indeed, Wood v. Johnson, supra, flatly states that a defendant-owner is under a greater responsibility to inspect and test a vehicle than one who is a mere operator. See also Kaplan v. Stein, 198 Md. 414, 84 A.2d 81 (1951). The routine inspection is not a panacea, however, for all dangerous conditions. The latent defect may still go undetected, but a routine examination does minimize the chance that that which should be readily discovered and corrected will not go undiscovered and uncorrected.

    48

    We believe that the evidence in this case was sufficient to satisfy the requirements of both Sothoron and Wood. Therefore, we perceive no error by Judge Mathias in refusing to direct a verdict for the appellants.

    50
    II and III
    51

    The appellants' second and third arguments, though couched in slightly different language, are so interrelated that we shall treat them as one. The appellants argue that the trial judge erred in refusing to grant a directed verdict in their favor because of Kathleen's failure to use the "emergency brake" when she had an opportunity to do so prior to the collision, and because of such an opportunity, the trial court should not have instructed the jury on the "sudden emergency doctrine". In this connection the appellants contend that Kathleen had ample time between the discovery of the foot brake failure and actual collision to apply the "emergency brake" (we observe that Md. Ann. Code Art. 66 1/2, § 12-301 does not use that nomenclature but rather refers to it as the "parking brake") so as to bring her vehicle to a stop. The answer to the appellants' contention is found in Warnke v. Essex, 217 Md. 183, 141 A.2d 728 (1958), which was expounded upon in Armstrong v. Johnson Motor 472*472 Lines, 12 Md. App. 492, 280 A.2d 24 (1971), and reiterated in Effler v. Webber, 18 Md. App. 162, 305 A.2d 485 (1973). The Warnke Court held at 187:

    52
    "Whether the operator of an automobile was confronted with an emergency, and whether he acted negligently under the circumstances, are generally questions for the jury. 10B Blashfield, Automobile Law and Practice (1957), § 6648." (Emphasis supplied).
    53

    This Court in Armstrong said, at 501:

    54
    "Proof by a party that he acted as he did because he was confronted with an emergency, to which he did not contribute, and which he could not have foreseen by the exercise of reasonable care, becomes one of the circumstances surrounding the entire occurrence, and focuses the inquiry on the question of whether he exercised due care under those circumstances. He is to be judged, not by hindsight, but in the light of the alternatives available to him in that emergency, and the time available to him to recognize and evaluate those alternatives, and to make the choice of a reasonable, prudent person. Whether he was negligent in the action he took in the face of the emergency, or whether he used reasonable care under the circumstances is ordinarily a jury question. Lehmann v. Johnson, 218 Md. 343, 146 A.2d 886 [(1958)]."
    55

    In Effler, we said that whether a driver, confronted with a sudden emergency, acted negligently under the circumstances is a question of fact for the jury to determine. It may be, as appellants suggest, that Kathleen could have applied the parking brake and brought her vehicle to a halt. She might have attempted to "motor brake" the vehicle by downshifting the gears, or she possibly could have turned the vehicle into a curb in an effort to stop it. Perhaps she could have avoided the collision by sounding the horn or 473*473 blinking the headlights. It is, of course, comparatively easy to "second guess" or "Monday Morning Quarterback" a motorist who is confronted by a sudden emergency, but as Judge Powers said in Armstrong, supra, the driver is not to be judged by hindsight, but whether he exercised due care under the circumstances with which he was confronted at the time.

    56

    Professor Prosser's Handbook of the Law of Torts § 33 (3rd Ed. 1964) states at 171-172:

    57
    "... [I]t seems clear that the basis of the special rule [emergency doctrine] is merely that the actor is left no time for thought, or is reasonably so disturbed or excited, that he cannot weigh alternative courses of action, and must make a speedy decision, based very largely upon impulse or guess. Under such conditions, the actor cannot reasonably be held to the same conduct as one who has had full opportunity to reflect, even though it later appears that he made the wrong decision, which no reasonable man could possibly have made after due deliberation. His choice `may be mistaken and yet prudent.'" (Footnotes omitted).
    58

    See also Effler v. Weber, supra.

    59

    Appellants would have us hold, in essence, that because a vehicle is equipped with a parking brake, the failure of a motorist to use that brake when his foot brakes suddenly fail, is negligence as a matter of law. We decline to do so. We think that Judge Mathias properly denied the appellants' motion for a directed verdict, correctly instructed the jury on the "doctrine of sudden emergency" and rightfully submitted the matter to the jury for its determination of whether Kathleen used reasonable care under the concomitant circumstances.

    61
    IV
    62

    Appellants advance the theory "that the jury should not have been instructed that the sudden emergency doctrine was applicable absent proof by the appellee that her vehicle 474*474 contained the statutorily required emergency brake equipment." In support of that theory appellants rely upon Fink v. East Miss. Elec. Power Assn., 234 Miss. 221, 105 So.2d 548 (1958), and Ritchie v. Davidson, 183 Neb. 94, 158 N.W.2d 275 (1968). In Fink the court held that a driver who was proceeding on a highway behind a truck that suddenly slowed was guilty of negligence as a matter of law when he, realizing that his foot brakes would not stop his vehicle in sufficient time to avoid a collision with the rear of the truck and knowing that he was on a well traveled road, swerved into the path of oncoming traffic and collided head-on with another vehicle. The court noted that the errant driver had three alternatives open to him at the time his brakes failed. They were: (1) turning his vehicle to the right (2) striking the truck or (3) turning to the left into the oncoming traffic. The driver chose the latter "without first ascertaining whether a vehicle was occupying the ... lane." The Mississippi court concluded that the evidence demonstrated the driver's turning into the oncoming traffic was the proximate cause of the accident. The Court was careful to point out, however, that had the driver turned to the right he could have gone onto the "shoulder of the highway" which "was wide enough to accommodate an automobile." Under Mississippi law it is apparently incumbent upon one claiming refuge behind the sudden emergency rule to show affirmatively that his vehicle was equipped with two separate means to bring the automobile to a stop; that he did not know and by the exercise of reasonable care could not have known that the vehicle's braking system was defective; that when the incident arose he made reasonable efforts to use both braking systems and that both failed, or that upon the sudden failure of the foot brakes he was unable, in the exercise of reasonable effort to stop the car; that he utilized as much care as a reasonably prudent person would use if confronted by similar circumstances.

    63

    The case is readily distinguishable from the holdings of the Court of Appeals of this State. No Maryland case that we have been able to find places an affirmative duty upon a defendant to prove that his automobile was equipped with 475*475 two separate means to stop his car and that both systems failed. The Legislature has enacted a statute that requires motor vehicles, except motorcycles, to be equipped with foot brakes and parking brakes, Md. Ann. Code Art. 66 1/2, § 12-301. Nothing therein, however, is indicative of a legislative intent that in order to invoke the sudden emergency rule one must show that both sets of brakes failed.

    64

    The most distinguishing factor, in our view, between the Maryland decisions and Fink is that the Mississippi court has usurped the jury function of fact finder, and decided as a matter of law that the failure to choose the most prudent of the three alternative ways out of the situation that confronted the driver established negligence.

    65

    In Ritchie, the Supreme Court of Nebraska held that a motorist traveling fifteen to twenty miles per hour, whose foot brakes suddenly failed, was guilty of inexcusable negligence in failing to use the "emergency brake" to stop the car. Ritchie is also factually inapposite to the case at bar. Moreover, the Nebraska court was apparently injecting itself into the fact finding process, or at least determining that the distance the striking vehicle was from the struck vehicle when the brakes of the striking vehicle failed, coupled with the rate of speed of the striking vehicle, was as a matter of law negligence.

    66

    We are unpersuaded by Fink v. East Miss. Elec. Power Assn., supra, and Ritchie v. Davidson, supra. As we read Mintzer v. Miller, 249 Md. 506, 240 A.2d 262 (1968), Wood v. Johnson, supra, Langville v. Glen Burnie Lines, 233 Md. 181, 195 A.2d 717 (1963), Garfinkle v. Birnios, supra, Lehmann v. Johnson, 218 Md. 343, 146 A.2d 886 (1958), Kaplan v. Stein, supra, Sothoron v. West, supra, and Currie v. United States, 201 F. Supp. 414 (D. Md. 1962), aff'd, 312 F.2d 1 (4th Cir.1963), it is manifest that the Maryland decisions are in accord with a number of her sister states which hold that sudden brake failure is "prima facie evidence of negligence, or is evidence from which an inference of negligence can be drawn...." Annot., 40 A.L.R.3d 9, 40 (1971). Such prima facie evidence or inference "must be controverted by a 476*476 showing of adequate inspection and sudden unexpected failure." Wood v. Johnson, supra. Even those states that hold that a violation of a statute or regulation pertaining to brakes is negligence per se, nevertheless, merely shift to the defendant "the burden of going ahead with the evidence to establish excuse or absence of negligence."[2] It would appear that whether one styles the rule prima facie, but rebuttable, or negligence per se, but rebuttable, is of no import. In either case proof of the happening of an accident, coupled with the defendant's explanation of sudden brake failure, shifts to the defendant the burden of going forward with the evidence to establish, if he can, the existence of a sudden emergency to which he did not contribute and could not have foreseen.[3]

    67

    We decline to hold that failure to use the parking brake, or as it is popularly known, the "emergency brake", in order to avoid a collision when the foot brakes suddenly fail is negligence as a matter of law. Rather, we think that evidence of a failure to use the parking or "emergency brake" is an element for the jury to consider in its deliberations over whether a defendant has exercised due care under the circumstances.

    68

    Judgment affirmed.

    69

    Costs to be paid by appellants.

    71

    [1] Now recodified as Md. Ann. Code Art. 66 1/2, § 12-301 and § 12-304.

    72

    [2] It is difficult to fathom how an act can be negligent per se and at the same time be rebuttable. For cases so holding, however, see Annot., 40 A.L.R.3d, supra at 43-45.

    73

    [3] Some jurisdictions, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan and Vermont, hold that violation of a state statute or regulation governing brakes "creates a presumption of negligence which is rebuttable and may be overcome by evidence of justification or excuse." Annot., 40 A.L.R.3d, supra at 41-43.

You've reached the bottom of your content preview.
To view the rest in your browser, click here.
To export the complete content in DOC format, click the blue export button in the upper right corner of this page.

(Note: If you view the entire playlist, any changes you've made to export settings will be lost. Large playlists may temporarily freeze your browser while loading, as well.)